The Fox Feats & Shark Tales
of Pollution Fighter James F. Phillips & Animal Rights Warrior Steven O. Hindi
by Pauline Marie Gambill
Who Chains You Books, P.O. Box 581, Amissville, VA 20106
Amazon.com: $14.97 paperback; $4.27 Kindle
Opens Pauline Marie Gambill in her introduction to The Fox Feats & Shark Tales, “While there are many individuals dedicated to protecting the environment and to preventing cruelty to animals, you would be hard-pressed to find a more courageous and daring pollution fighter/environmental activist than James ‘Jim’ Phillips, or a more courageous and daring animal rights defender/investigator than Steve Hindi.”
ANIMALS 24-7 readers know Hindi
Hindi, who founded Showing Animals Respect & Kindness [SHARK] in 1992, is of course familiar to ANIMALS 24-7 readers. ANIMALS 24-7 often reports about his investigative exposés of cockfighting, pigeon shoots, rodeos, and other forms of institutionalized animal abuse, most often those associated with outdoor recreation.
Hindi also contributes to ANIMALS 24-7 frequent guest columns and comments posted beneath articles.
Typically, Hindi denounces the mendacity and corruption of local authorities in various communities who refuse to enforce legislation, feeble as it usually is, to restrain mayhem against animals––and then denounces the sloth, incompetence, and comparable corruption of major animal advocacy organizations whose campaigns tend to be more about fundraising than about actually stopping any abuse that moves donors to send money.
Typically Hindi finishes with a scathing denunciation of “activists” whose “activism” has degenerated into donating in response to appeals from organizations that actually achieve little or nothing, and signing online petitions, the major purpose of which is to collect email addresses for sending out more fundraising appeals.
Jim Phillips: The Fox
Jim Phillips (1930-2001), active in the Fox River region of Illinois for about a generation before Hindi took up animal advocacy as a resident of the same region, conducted covert campaigns of “ecotage” as “The Fox” for about 30 years.
Most of Phillips’ actions came in the very early years of the environmental movement that emerged just before, and in the two decades after, the first Earth Day in 1970.
Phillips also had a role in the rise of Environmental Action, the organization founded by Dennis Hayes that organized the first Earth Day, and in many other public environmental advocacy activities, beginning as a high school science teacher and ending as a pollution inspector for the Kane County Environmental Department.
Though Gambill details at length the various forms of recognition and acknowledgement that both Hindi and Phillips have received, reality is that neither Hindi nor Phillips ever sought personal publicity, only publicity for their campaign goals. Both personally remained so obscure that each on many occasions went completely unrecognized in face-to-face encounters with their avowed adversaries.
Hindi at once point even sat unrecognized at a rodeo in front of a “Wanted” poster of him tacked up by rodeo enthusiasts.
Consequently, neither Hindi nor Phillips ever became one of the public faces of their respective causes––or wanted to.
Phillips, however, inspired “monkey-wrenching” as a tactic of environmental activism more than five years before Edward Abbey (1927-1989) wrote his 1975 novel The Monkey Wrench Gang.
Before that, “monkey-wrenching” was called “ecotage,” and Phillips––as The Fox––was clearly credited with demonstrating how to do it for maximum effect.
Explains Wikipedia, “Ecotage! was a 1972 paperback book edited by [Environmental Action attorney] Sam Love and David Obst,” better known as literary agent for the former Washington Post investigative team of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.
“Published by Pocket Books,” the mass-market paperback “was a collection of ideas that had been solicited by Environmental Action over the previous year for using sabotage, attention-grabbing stunts, and other ideas to draw attention to environmental issues.
“The book is credited as one of the early inspirations for radical environmental activism, in turn inspired by the actions of an individual who operated in the Chicago area. Calling himself ‘The Fox’, he engaged in such activities as plugging smokestacks and entering the offices of corporate executives to dump sewage on their desks.”
Many of Phillips’ actions as The Fox involved legal transgressions. Because they were covert, those actions fell outside the scope of socially acceptable law-breaking protest activity defined by Henry David Thoreau in his 1849 essay Civil Disobedience, which centers on standing up for a principle and taking the consequences by way of making the point to the public.
But as Gambill points out, Phillips was not just an eco-vigilante, observing no rules but his own.
Recounts Gambill, “’Society is my jury,’ he used to say. ‘The minute people think I’m out of line, that I’m writing the rules to suit me and not them, I’ll be caught.’ The fact that he never was caught says something about The Fox and the people he inspired.”
Observed the Chicago Tribune after Phillips died in 2001, “While his acts that damaged property cannot be condoned, it is unarguable that his tactics helped forced many companies to clean up their acts. It was important to Phillips, as he and others often pointed out, not to harm anyone as a result of their actions,” a creed shared by many of the people who later emulated Phillips, including Sea Shepherd Conservation Society founder Paul Watson and Steve Hindi.
In contrast to Phillips, Hindi has rarely broken laws, either knowingly or accidentally, yet has many times been detained, occasionally been arrested, and has even done jail time, precisely because he does very little that is of a covert nature. His targets of investigation may not know exactly how, when, and where they may be under surveillance, but typically they have been warned well in advance, and have been given every opportunity to cease and desist from whatever their cruel and almost always illegal activity before being exposed.
Police have also almost always been given advance warning. Conflicts ensue when, instead of enforcing anti-cruelty laws, local constabularies try to protect the pigeon-shooters, rodeo cowboys, cockfighters et al.
Animals’ air force
Phillips is not known to have used technology more advanced than the canoe he paddled as part of a 1973 group re-enactment of the 1673 exploration of the Mississippi River by Catholic priest Jacques Marquette and fur trader Louis Joliet, undertaken to publicize pollution.
Hindi, by contrast, early in his animal advocacy career was among the first activists to make extensive use of hidden camera videography, including night videography.
By 1996 Hindi had added use of a motorized paraglider to his technological arsenal, flying it between hunters and their targets almost simultaneous with the release of the 1996 film Fly Away Home, which includes a similar scene.
From video trucks to “aircraft carrier”
Video display trucks followed, taking documentation of institutional animal abuse directly to the public until the 2005 debut of YouTube gave Hindi and SHARK access to a vastly larger audience at a fraction of the cost.
The last of the video display trucks in 2010 was converted into a sort of land-based aircraft carrier, hauling the first of the SHARK drone fleet around the country to capture video of animal abuses previously inaccessible to investigators.
More-or-less simultaneously, SHARK added personnel, expanding into a team that often documents events such as cockfights both from the air and on the ground.
Phillips, Hindi, & Thoreau
Pauline Marie Gambill in The Fox Feats & Shark Tales meticulously details the lives and work of both Phillips and Hindi, event by event, campaign by campaign, with extensive footnotes and references. If any fact is omitted, it eluded ANIMALS 24-7, even as The Fox Feats & Shark Tales furnished frequent reminders of deeds that were half-forgotten, though reported about at the time.
Finally, in her concluding chapter, Gambill steps forward to discuss “Jim Phillips, Steve Hindi, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Commonalities.”
Other than that all three exemplified some of the key points in Civil Disobedience, I’d have struggled to find many. Thoreau (1817-1862), was a recreational canoeing enthusiast, as was Phillips; Thoreau, like Hindi, was an avid hunter in his youth, who later abandoned and spoke against hunting; Thoreau managed his father’s pencil-making factory, while Hindi for 40 years owned and managed a company that makes rivets.
Damning the dams
Gambill found a great deal more, including that both Thoreau and Phillips developed their environmental awareness from observations of the effects of dams on rivers and wildlife.
Gambill quotes Thoreau biographer Robert M. Thorson: “In his twenties, Thoreau contemplated industrial sabotage against a downstream factory dam.”
While Thoreau did not follow through with that scheme, in 1859 he was hired, according to Thorson, “as a technical consultant for the River Meadow Association, in America’s first statewide case for dam removal, a class action suit that pitted local farmers against industrialists.”
Gambill also notes many of Thoreau’s writings about hunting and fishing that directly parallel Hindi’s, written more than a century later with no hint of self-aware emulation.
For example, Thoreau wrote in a January 26, 1853 journal entry, “Now I go a-fishing and a-hunting every day, but omit the fish and the game, which are the least important part. I have learned to do without them.
Explains Hindi, often, “I still feel very much like a hunter. It’s just a different chase and a different prey now.”
“The facts, m’am. Just the facts”
One hopes The Fox Feats & Shark Tales will not be the last biography about either Phillips or Hindi. The stories of their lives could be restructured by skilled screenwriters and cinematographers into films capturing much more of the dramatic tension associated with their work, especially Hindi’s.
More than just a few of Hindi’s actions have included rushed telephone calls to ANIMALS 24-7 describing the action as Hindi has evaded a variety of enraged assailants who have turned from shooting animals or obliging them to fight, to shooting at drones and pursuing, even assaulting, Hindi himself.
(See Investigators survive ambush attack at alleged cockfight in Ohio, and that’s just one example.)
Film biographies of Phillips and Hindi would of necessity be much less comprehensive, but more closely focused on particular events.
The Fox Feats & Shark Tales would, however, be a screenwriter’s constant companion in getting “The facts, m’am. Just the facts,” before rearranging history into drama.
[An appendix to The Fox Feats & Shark Tales recounts our 30-plus-year acquaintance with Hindi, including how seeing a SHARK exposé of rodeo led Beth, indirectly, to her marriage to me and our producing ANIMALS 24-7 together. As a correspondent to the Environmental Action magazine, 1980-1990, I was also distantly aware of The Fox, but we were not acquainted.]